As the ball bounced off Washington Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson's mitt and dribbled away in the eighth inning last night at RFK Stadium, reliever Gary Majewski nervously waited for Johnson to end the inning. When Johnson gathered himself, grabbed the ball and calmly stepped on first base to record the third out, Majewski quickly punched into his glove with excitement.
Majewski gleefully hopped toward the dugout, floppy, jet-black mop bouncing underneath his cap, as what was left of the 36,552 in attendance erupted in applause. "I'm always charged up," he said. "That's my mentality."
The Nats haven't had much to get charged up over in the past few weeks -- so much so that General Manager Jim Bowden suggested giving every player on his team bottles of the energy drink, Red Bull, to give them a boost. They needed something. But during their 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers last night, the Nationals didn't need any outside sources of energy. The bullpen provided a much needed lift when starter Tony Armas Jr. went down after five innings.
"The bullpen has been the key all year long, although they haven't been used as early too often," Manager Frank Robinson said. "We had our most consistent weapon and that was good pitching."
Armas pitched long enough to secure his sixth win of the season -- and improve to 5-0 at RFK -- before he was forced to leave with tendinitis in his right arm, so Robinson called on Luis Ayala, who hasn't had much work in recent weeks, Majewski, Mike Stanton and closer Chad Cordero to help the Nationals record their second win in nine games.
The bullpen pitched four scoreless innings, allowing just two hits, and turned the Dodgers' hitters into what the Nationals have been since the all-star break -- a weak-hitting team with little pop at the plate.
"We've been in a rut the past three weeks and every once in awhile we have a game where we don't make any mistakes," Majewski said. "It felt like we did in the first half -- guys come in, bust their butts and we came out victorious."
The Nats' bullpen benefited from a questionable move by the Dodgers. Center fielder Milton Bradley, who had been 2 for 2 with a home run and a walk, popped up in the eighth inning while attempting to bunt with a runner on first base. And, they had some good fortune. Dodgers catcher Dioner Navarro's blast in the ninth -- a shot Cordero thought was a home run when it left the bat -- came within two feet of clearing the wall in right field before landing in Jose Guillen's glove. "I was kind of relieved," Cordero said.
Ayala pitched two perfect innings and collected a hit in the fifth inning, which raised his batting average to .333 (1 for 3). "My first hit of the season," Ayala said. "That's what happens when you swing the bat. You don't swing the bat, you don't have a chance to make a hit."
Stanton gave up a leadoff single to Oscar Robies then got Bradley, the Dodgers' only offense last night, to pop up while bunting. Then, Majewski raced to the mound, struck out Jeff Kent looking and got Jose Valentin to ground out to first.
Cordero, making just his ninth appearance since the all-star break, recorded his 36th save.
"Ayala's two innings was the key to the success we had tonight. They all contributed in their own way," Robinson said. "Majewski is always the guy that seems to be in the middle of things; he did a great job tonight for us. Stanton got a big out for us on the Milton bunt and the Chief came in and closed it down, not without a little thrill in there. But he got the job done."